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Join 50 Librarians as They Tackle SXSW Interactive
Posted On April 7, 2015
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Block makes Interactive a family affair, with his wife and daughter in attendance this year (his daughter was tapped by The Denver Post to take the photos for an article on lib*interactive). He first attended 4 years ago on the advice of a friend who suggested it would help him keep up with emerging technologies, and he says the experience changed his life. The next year, he led a presentation, The Great Library Swindle: Your Rights Are at Risk, which aimed to show the technology community what kinds of issues librarians faced. (TIME’s Harry McCracken wrote about his session, thus elevating the profile of librarians at Interactive, and Block presented about sxswLAM at Internet Librarian 2014.)

Block got to know other librarians who were attending the conference and now helps coordinate lib*interactive at the event along with volunteers who, among other tasks, spend hours working on communication and branding (Stacie Ledden, Anythink Libraries), recruiting volunteers for before and during the conference (Mel Gooch, San Francisco Public Library, and Sharon McKellar, Oakland Public Library), fundraising (John Chrastka, EveryLibrary), and coordinating local activities during the conference (Andrea Davis, St. Gallen University).

Part of the reason Block loves Interactive is that it gets librarians to look at what other industries do with technology, “and especially how tied they are to their institutional goals and how they make use of technology components to make that happen,” he says.

Ledden, director of innovations and brand strategy for Anythink Libraries (the public library system of Adams County, Colo.), has been going to Interactive for the past 3 years. One of her favorite parts of the conference is her ability to talk to attendees and get libraries “on their radar, because there are so many benefits to partnering with libraries.”

This year, Ledden brought her entire innovations department to the conference because she feels it’s the best place to learn about marketing. “It was fun looking at all these different ideas and seeing how we could shape them for our own spaces, for our own programs, so going in with open eyes and an open mind to that is really helpful,” she says.

Speaking Out About the LAM Space

Ledden presented for the first time at this year’s conference. At her well-attended session, Anythink: The Brand That Sparked a Revolution, she spoke about her library’s experience with rebranding itself.

Adams County had the worst-funded library system in Colorado for more than 50 years. Prior to separating from the county in 2004, “our libraries were in really bad shape and, really, people didn’t know who we were,” Ledden says. The system was approved to become a special taxing district, which meant it could seek funding separately from the county’s offerings and operate autonomously. It also had to change its name, so it settled on Rangeview Library District. After struggling to be approved for funding and almost having to close down one of its libraries, voters finally agreed to an increase in its operating budget.

“So at that time, we came into this funding, and that was when our board said we cannot just build libraries for today, and we can’t just build libraries. Let’s be thinking about the future so we’re never really in this same position again. So we had this unique opportunity to start from the ground up and think about what kind of library we wanted to become,” says Ledden.

About 5 years ago, Rangeview became Anythink Libraries, which is dedicated to creating “amazing experiences” for its customers. Staffers took hospitality training, and they were encouraged to rove around the library, greet customers, and offer help. Physical spaces went through changes too; three libraries were renovated and four were built from the ground up. Anythink got rid of circulation desks, and its books and other media are arranged by “neighborhood” instead of in long rows of shelving. “We actually group them in little neighborhoods and create little nooks throughout the space for people to read and explore,” she says, and customers have responded favorably.

The library doesn’t charge overdue fines, and it was the first system in the country to stop using the Dewey Decimal System across all of its branches. Instead, it uses WordThink, a system that categorizes by the words on books’ labels instead of by numbers. Ledden says it’s empowering for customers because they don’t have to decode numbers; if they’re looking for a cookbook, they can go to the Cooking section and find the label for Cooking, International Cooking, Italian.

“So we did a lot of these changes really quickly, and because we were changing our service philosophy and our approach to libraries so drastically, we really needed a brand that helped represent that, and that’s how we ended up as Anythink,” Ledden says. “We felt like, as libraries, our competition are places like Starbucks and Google and Amazon and Barnes & Noble, so if that is our competition, then we need a challenger brand that could help us be noticed within sort of those other brand messages that you see out there from day to day.”

When Ledden started working at the library system in 2008, about 17% of Adams County residents were cardholders. Now, cardholders are about 44% of the population. She says it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason usage increased, but people have “taken ownership of the library itself and the Anythink brand.”

With a success story like that, it makes sense to share it not only with other libraries, but also with other industries that are seeking new approaches to marketing. After all, Anythink is always looking outside the library field for inspiration.

“[W]e look at what people are doing in retail, what they’re doing in marketing, what they’re doing in hospitality, and thinking about the ways that they’re innovating and sort of pulling those ideas back into the library. Sometimes our industry can be very inward-looking, and so we want to look outward and say, OK, what’s happening elsewhere, and all of this is, so we can 1) make sure that we are meeting the needs of our communities and 2) that we’re staying relevant,” she says.

Having conversations about the future of libraries and emerging technologies at library conferences is great, she says. “But to go to the source, where these things are being built and discussed, is incredibly beneficial to us—we can learn, we can build partnerships with folks down there, and then bring ideas and bring technology back to our libraries and back to our communities.”

Follow @lib_interactive on Twitter and use #liblove. For more information on sessions from this year’s conference that could benefit the LAM space, see “What Librarians Can Learn From SXSW” in the May 2015 issue of Information Today

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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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